NFL coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Mike Zimmer, just had a retinal detachment to his right eye.
He has had several “surgeries” over the past 30 days to the same eye. While the exact details are not known, there is a lot we can learn from his recent experience.
What we do know is;
- A retinal tear was discovered and treated around October 31.
- A second operation was performed a week later.
- Emergency surgery for a retinal detachment was performed on November 30.
Retinal Tears Cause Retinal Detachment
All retinal detachments start with a retinal tear. It has been my experience that most retinal tears simply “happen” and without trauma.
Retinal tears can happen to anyone. Retinal tears usually, but not always, are associated with sudden onset flashes and floaters, but they can be asymptomatic.
This may have happened with Coach Zimmer. Several accounts stated that his retinal tear was discovered after he scratched his cornea.
No, corneal abrasions can not cause retinal tears.
Treatment of Retinal Tears
The ideal treatment of a retinal tear is laser. If laser is not an option, due to the location of the retinal tear, cryotherapy, or freezing, is an excellent treatment.
Both work equally well in treating retinal tears in situations where there is no element of retinal detachment. Cryotherapy may be more uncomfortable.
I do not know if the second surgery was needed because additional tears were discovered or he developed a retinal detachment.
What is important to highlight is that additional retinal tears can occur and/or a retinal detachment could develop after treatment of an initial tear.
Treatment of Retinal Detachments
There are several ways to treat a retinal detachment. Depending upon the location of the retinal tear causing the detachment, intraocular gas may be injected into the eye which requires specific head positioning afterwards to keep the gas pushing on the retinal tear. This is an “in office” procedure.
Two other ways to fix a retinal detachment include a vitrectomy and/or scleral buckle. These may be used along with intraocular gas, too.
Regardless of the procedure, if intraocular gas is used to repair the retinal detachment, airplane flight or traveling to higher elevations is not possible.
Too rapid a decrease in atmospheric pressure can lead to expansion of the gas inside the eye. If this occurs too rapidly, the eye can not adjust to the increase in eye pressure caused by the expanding gas. The high pressure could prevent normal blood flow into the eye.
This explains a few remarks about his driving to Florida for the game against the Jaguars. No remarks about head positioning.
Not all retinal detachment surgery is an emergency. A retinal detachment starts off small and can spread. If the macula, the functional center of the retina is attached, but may become detached by waiting, it can be an emergency.
I wish Coach Zimmer well. I wanted to highlight his retinal detachment to emphasize a few points about retinal detachments in keeping with the headlines.